Something deep within book-lovers demands that they share their interest with others. Bibliophiles are desperate to talk about their favourite books, form book clubs, create online forums, and hungrily devour reviews for recommendations (or to compare their opinions with so-called experts). The why of it remains a mystery, but it’s an undeniable affliction that we share. And above all, the ultimate display of love for the written word is a bookstore. The spaces—whether dusty and cramped or shiny and new—are cathedrals of literacy.
Opening a bookstore and filling it with your favourite painstakingly chosen books is a dream for most, but Zoe Grams, founder and principal of literary marketing agency ZG Stories, made it her reality this month. She and her partner, author Ian Gill, opened the literary art space and store Upstart & Crow on Vancouver’s Granville Island this month, and it is already a bright spot for book-lovers amidst the pandemic.
It’s hard to believe that the artistic and cultural hub of Granville Island hasn’t seen a bookstore since the closure of Blackberry Books in 2016. Not only is Upstart & Crow stepping in to fill the void, it is pushing the limits of what a bookstore can mean to a community.
The books in stock are carefully selected from indie publishers and are chosen based on inventive themes and important issues because “life is too short to read the same thing as everyone else.” From there, Grams and Gill have rounded out the store’s collection with accessories that complement the reading experience and can be purchased as a literary gift package: locally sourced bath salts, candles, confectionery, stationery, and art. The tangible products in the store contribute to the local economy by focusing on Canadian authors, small presses, and personal-care products made by female- and BIPOC-owned businesses.
When COVID restrictions begin to ease, Upstart & Crow has plans to more thoroughly integrate itself with Granville Island’s artistic landscape. Grams and Gill intend to invite writers-in-residence, host book clubs and long-table dinners, and have writers act as short story and pamphleteer buskers in the shop.
For now, those are just plans, but the community outreach has already begun. Gill has a long-standing history with the Indigenous communities in the Great Bear Rainforest—the wood wall at the back of the store is made of cedar left over from the construction of a longhouse up there. So Upstart & Crow has partnered with Thistalalh Memorial Library in Bella Bella (Haíɫzaqv/Heiltsuk territory) to source and send titles that the library has selected using the bookstore’s customer donations. There is a framed photo and explanation of the project on the wall next to a beautiful display of handmade Indigenous journal art pieces.
The space is full of small and surprising details that reveal themselves the longer you’re in the space. It strikes the perfect balance between contemporary and cozy. Grams and Gill are passionate about literature (obviously), and a conversation with them is a must if you find yourself in the store. It only takes a few questions answered, and you’ll leave with the perfect book in hand.
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